By Andy Rose, CNN
With less than a week to go before the beginning of early voting, officials in Harris County, Texas, were notified in a letter Tuesday that the secretary of state’s office will send “inspectors” to observe vote counting for the general election.
“These inspectors will perform randomized checks on election records, including tapes and chain-of-custody, and will observe the handling and counting of ballots and electronic media,” Forensic Audit Division Director Chad Ennis said in a letter to the elections administrator of Harris County.
The letter said the state attorney general’s office will also “dispatch a task force … to immediately respond to any legal issues identified by secretary of state, inspectors, poll watchers, or voters.”
The secretary of state’s office said the scrutiny of Harris County — which is the state’s most populous and includes the city of Houston — was prompted by an “audit” of the 2020 election, which, Ennis said, “revealed serious breaches of proper elections management.” He said there were more than a dozen polling locations identified where the drives that store voting records did not have a proper chain-of-custody record.
That so-called post-election audit in Texas, a state that former President Donald Trump carried in 2020, was launched as Republicans in states including Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Arizona forged ahead with partisan reviews that appeared designed to undermine the 2020 election results and demonstrate local Republicans’ fealty to Trump.
“The Elections Administrator is reviewing the letter in conjunction with the Harris County Attorney’s Office,” Harris County Elections Administrator Clifford Tatum said in a written statement Wednesday. “As you know we’re five days away from the start of Early Voting for the November 8 election, and we are focused foremost on ensuring this election runs smoothly.”
Harris County’s top elected official, County Judge Lina Hidalgo, a Democrat, said in her own statement Wednesday, “The timing of the letter is — at best — suspicious. It was sent just days before the start of early voting, potentially in an attempt to sabotage county efforts by sowing doubt in the elections process, or equally as bad, be opening the door to possible inappropriate state interference in Harris County’s elections.”
Asked by CNN for further details on the inspection plans, the secretary of state’s office said in a statement, “Our office sends inspectors and trainers to Harris County, and other counties, every single Texas election—including in Gillespie county—to ensure Texas election laws and proper chain-of-custody protocols are being followed. In fact, the Texas Legislature appropriated more funding for election security trainers last session for exactly this purpose.”
Isabel Longoria, who had overseen elections in the county since 2020, announced she was submitting her resignation earlier this year amid a mail-in ballot counting discrepancy from March’s primary night results.
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